It often seems that the most affecting songwriting is that which documents the small yet magnificent details of life. Rather than grand, sweeping statements, it is the minutiae that we relate to the most. Orlando Weeks’ album A Quickening is an album composed entirely of said minutiae.
A Quickening chronicles the birth of Weeks’ son, in reverse. Opening track ‘Milk Breath’ is the only song with Weeks as a father; the remaining 10 chart the journey from that moment backwards. From the pregnancy scan of ‘St. Thomas’’, to the realisation he will become a parent on ‘Dream’ – the ordinary sits alongside the extraordinary. The ex-Maccabee has made an album entirely different to his work with that band, something more in the wheelhouse of Thom Yorke or Bon Iver. Weeks’ haunting, fragile voice floats over piano, synthesizer, the occasional strummed guitar; if there are ever drums, they are skittering, barely there.
This is an album composed of intimate, hushed moments. On ‘Milk Breath’ he speaks to his new-born: “I’m a beginner, you’re a beginner … one month to the day.” These songs feel like cycles more than anything, there’s something very natural and holistic about them – verse, chorus, bridge, chorus this is not. I found ‘Blood Sugar’ the most powerful of the singles. The verses see Weeks imploring his partner to “come back to me”, while the chorus is a cathartic, keening vocalisation; he sings over and over that he will “be [her] blood, be [her] sugar”. Safe In Sound finds Orlando “caught between launch and landing”, anticipating the arrival of his child. It feels almost like a mission statement for the record, summing up his protective instincts in such a quietly incisive way.
This is the strength of the album. Weeks has a knack for pinning down the tiny detail that evokes the whole. It brings to mind songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers; it doesn’t matter if you can’t relate materially to what they describe, because their narration of the subtleties immediately transports you there with them. You may never have heard Big Ben ring in all your life, but when Weeks sings “gone the bell that had rang forever / at least as long as I can remember”, you’re there with him, swimming in nostalgia. When Weeks watches the “rise and fall” of his son’s “milk chest”, when he “see[s] those fingers signalling”, we’re holding this expectant father’s hand every step of the way.
It’s not to say that this is a perfect album. Weeks has managed to capture a rare moment in all its subtlety, and I can’t fault his communication of what it is to become a parent. Sonically, the album is pitch-perfect too, gentle, ebbing textures, nothing too harsh or sudden. But with that comes the danger of homogeneity. On occasion the album feels slightly too sparse; it’s so barely there that the listener slips right off. When there’s nothing to grab hold of, the music can’t impart the already subtle emotions that it wants to relate to you. But no matter. Rather an album too subtle, than Weeks turning out an overblown vision of childbirth. Erring on the side of caution is something new parents do only too well.
I have a feeling that A Quickening won’t receive the acclaim it deserves, which is a pity. The solo project from an ex-frontman telling of his journey into fatherhood could easily slip into Richard Curtis territory, and when an album is this slight, it’s no surprise when it makes a fairly small splash. But stick with it. As it unfurls before you, A Quickening does that rarest of things – it makes you slow down, and experience the album at its own pace. Take the time to do so, and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtakingly beautiful journey.
Orlando Weeks’ A Quickening was released last Friday, and is available to stream and purchase now.